Thursday, July 22, 2010

If Religion, Then..... Why?

Church of All Nations

On Tuesday, while we were fasting for Tisha B'Av, Stu and I went to the Mount of Olives.

Getting there from our home was an interesting experience.  It only took about half an hour, but in that short time we drove thru new Jerusalem, and via the religious neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Bar Ilan, crossed into Arab East Jerusalem near the area of the Temple Mount.  Driving onward, we followed the walls of the Old City to the Mount of Olives, where we found parking across from a long row of tourist buses that lined the approach to the Church of All Nations.

The area was filled with tourists from around the world.  We saw groups and independent travelers from places as widespread as Korea and Italy.  Most were focusing their sights on the church and its surroundings (which includes the Garden of Gethsemane), but while we lingered a bit, the focus of our visit was across the road.

Directly across the street from the Church of All Nations lies the Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives.  With its view of the Old City walls and of modern Jerusalem beyond them, you would expect that tourists to the area would be eager to take at least a few moments to explore the cemetery and its view.

But we didn't notice any tour guides pointing out the view to their groups, and almost no one turned around or crossed the road to take photos. 

Sounds odd, doesn't it?

The explanation might lie in the reason for our visit:  to see and walk among the thousands of old and ancient Jewish graves which were destroyed during the years of Jordanian occupation before Israel gained control of the area in the 1967 war.

The contrast from one side of the street to the other is quite remarkable- and uncomfortable.

On one side are two very elaborately decorated churches- the richly painted Church of All Nations, and the gold plated onion domes of the Russian Orthodox Church above it.

On the other side of the road, facing the walls of the Old City (and the view of the golden Dome of the Rock peeking above them), are tens of thousands of graves, many of which still lay in ruins, their tombstones smashed, the earth around them strewn with debris.

Over 40 years ago, shortly after the '67 war, I visited the area for the first time, and although I was only 11 years old, the sadness of that visit is still burned in my mind.

Although Israel had only regained control of the area a few months before, valient efforts were being made to restore the cemetery.  I'll never forget the sight of dozens of people wandering through the destruction, trying to locate the graves of loved ones.  It seemed like an impossible task- how could they hope to locate anything amidst those piles of rubble?

The destruction was so intense, that 40 years later the restoration is still not complete.  In 19 years of occupation, the Jordanians had worked hard to destroy the cemetery, desecrating and uprooting graves dating from biblical times to our modern era. 

Part of the goal of the restoration work was to reopen the cemetery to new burials as soon as possible- an ironic testament to the endurance of the Jewish people.

Walking among that destruction, trying to decipher the faded lettering on cracked tombstones, I found myself overwhelmed with the feelings of frustration and confusion that often haunt me when I travel around Israel.

Those feelings were particularly disturbing that day:

How could it be, at a place that is deeply holy to so many people, that we were immersed in the evidence of the deliberate desecration of one one religion, while within clear sight of the golden domes of two others?

How could it be, that visitors who came from all over the world to glory in the beginnings of their own religion, not turn around and reflect upon another?

Since the inception of this blog, I've avoided writing about these reflections.  It's so much easier, and of course more pleasant, to enjoy each day without having to think of all the whys of the world.

But Tisha B'Av, of all days, is the time for exactly those questions.  Not just for Jews- for everyone.  And maybe now that I've finally started talking about them, I'll find the strength and determination to return to those reflections regularly. 

In the meantime, I have a feeling that each time I put on the sandals I wore that day,  the fine grains of sand from the cemetery still clinging to the crevices and soles will strengthen my identity with the thousands of years of Jewish struggle and fortitude in this region- linking me to my past in a reminder of how, after a lifetime of longing, I emigrated to Israel.. but at the same time, continuing to raise a deep turbulance within me as new dimensions of whys continue to fight their way to the surface.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


If you're chuckling at the illustration to the left, chances are you've been in Israel in the summer.  I don't know if it's a macho Middle Eastern thing, or if it's just part of the Sabra (native Israeli) culture, but Israelis seem to feel that it takes an entire can of lighter fluid to start a bbq!

While the air on summer days may have a touch of smoke from a nearby forest fire, you can be sure that come nightfall, the smoke you smell- and you will smell smoke, that's a guarantee- is from someone's grill. 

In Jerusalem, you know you're approaching Sacher Park by the clouds of smoke from family bbqs drifting onto the road.  Residents who drive by know to be prepared for a moment or two of temporary blindness, while visitors to the city have a landmark to help them find their way.

We've become used to quickly running around the apartment, shutting windows, whenever we get a first whiff of lighter fluid from our neighbors' terraces.   If we're not fast enough, within moments white puffs of smoke start drifting over our yard and into our home, followed by half an hour or more of gray clouds of smoke filling the air.  I guess in one sense we're fortunate that Israelis have a proclivity for an overuse of lighter fluid- at least it gives us a heads up to seal our apartment before being inundated with smoke!

This post is dedicated to our new downstairs neighbors, who certainly broke all smoke records last night.   I was doing some gardening in the front of our apartment, when my husband came out to warn me that our house had quickly filled with smoke from the downstairs bbq.  (He had been outside helping me for a while, so we were caught unawares.)

It was the first time that the new neighbors had started their grill, and it was memorable- they must have been smoking something, because a thick white column of smoke rose from their terrace all night.   Both floors of our apartment were filled with smoke, and we were caught in a bind- close the windows to keep more smoke from getting in, but in doing so trap any smoke that was already there; or try to keep the air circulating with open windows and fans, with the hope that we'd have some chance of clearing the air.

We kept the windows open, figuring that within an hour they'd be finished cooking, and the smoke would stop, never thinking that the smoke would go on and on (and on and on!).   Being the neighborly type, I hesitated going downstairs to say something, because I could hear that they had company, and didn't want to embarrass them or interrupt their evening.  But at 11pm, with the smoke still pouring into our apartment (by then I had shut most of the windows), I finally knocked on their door. 

[Aside: by writing that, I just gave away my immigrant status.  No native Israeli would have waited that long to complain.  (And again, if you've ever spent time in Israel, you can add a few other differences in approach .. !)]

Our interaction was very pleasant and civilized, although he did mention that he wasn't finished grilling yet.  (Gulp!)   I asked him to please, in the future, let us know before he started grilling, and also suggested that he consider moving his grill to the other side of his terrace, a bit further away from our apartment (but of course, that would mean the smoke would then be directed at his apartment, so I don't see that happening any time soon!).

This morning our home was still somewhat smoky, and when I returned from errands a short while ago, the smell of smoke hit me as soon as I opened the front door.

I know this sounds like a rant (go ahead, tell me you wouldn't be ranting in this situation!), but it's actually more of a reflection of life here in Israel (really!). 

You just gotta laugh  (and sometimes -OK, often!- shrug your shoulders, and sigh :-) ) .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another..

I've been promising myself, for the past couple of weeks, that I'd start posting somewhat regularly, but clearly that's a promise that's being pushed aside.  The truth is, while I've had passing urges to write, I never felt I had anything to write about.

But, somewhere back in my head, there was a nagging feeling that I should sit down at the keyboard and just get to it.  Was my life really so boring, that I had nothing to say?  C'mon!

Well- sort of.  Actually I've been juggling two things:  interviews for a job in Tel Aviv, and a frustrating series of medical issues that keep rolling in.

Oh- I guess I do have something to write about, but it's not what you might think:

I can hear my naturopath's voice humming in my ear:  "Maybe you've got all those medical issues because you really don't want to get that job."

A couple of weeks ago, I was almost listening to that voice.   After all, I've been basically at home for almost ten years- ever since we moved to Israel.   Sure, I spent a most of that time caring for my mom, and a good chunk of the past couple of years traveling, but when someone asks me what I do, I don't really have much of an answer- and that's something I never faced when we lived in the States. 

Once I got a taste of having some place to go regularly, I find that I'm itching to get out of the house. 

So, why did I get the shingles?   Why am I having mysterious painful flashes in my mouth?  Why are my blood pressure and pulse so low that my doc is sending me for an echo cardiogram?   Why did I tear a tendon in my sleep?

You know what- I don't care!   I feel like I'm living in a state of euphoria: nothing can phase me.  It's as if going through a cancer scare has made me 'despondent-proof'. 

I'm finding it incredibly frustrating to be house bound this week- that torn tendon is really putting an annoying crimp in my lifestyle.  


My motto is ever 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' and that's what I've been doing:

-  Good thing they haven't made a decision on that job yet- the longer they wait, the longer my leg has a chance to heal.

- Ditto for all the medical tests I've got to go through:  maybe I'll have  a chance to get them all done before I start working, so I won't have to take some half days as soon as I start a new job.

- Thank goodness they're taking their time:  the longer they take, the more sure I am that I want to get out of the house and work!

So, while I'm not quite saying  'Bring it On!,'  I can say that I'm not phased by all these little things.  My life is filled with love and laughter, and my head is filled with dreams and plans for future trips and the determination to make them happen.  Whether that involves a job in Tel Aviv, or finding other ways to finance my travels, I have no doubt that I'll find a way.   Self employment, consulting, painting, tutoring, or something new- that's all part of the challenge.   And, I love a good challenge!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Marking Time

Spring has always been a favorite time of year for me.  How can you not love seeing bright new blossoms, hearing the sweet chirp of baby birds, or enjoying the fresh, grassy taste of the first asparagus of the season?

In Israel, we don't get to share the excitement of the sight of crocuses and daffodils peeking through the snow, but we get a valley filled with pink and white almond blossoms, and the end of the rainy season. 

Judaism fills spring with holidays- from Purim (the Story of Esther) in March, to Passover a month later, then onto Lag B'Omer and, finally, at the end of May, Shavout- a festival that is celebrated by decorating our homes and synagogues with flowers.  (What a way to say, 'Spring!')

But as much as I love smiling at springtime, it also brings to our family a time of reflection: as we prepare to celebrate each holiday, we also mark the anniversary of the death of a parent.  My mother-in-law passed away a few days before Purim; my father-in-law died suddenly that Passover; my father died two days before Lag B'Omer; and my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Shavuot time (she passed away a few weeks later). 

I've been quietly marking time since Purim, when I found that lump in my neck.  Incredibly (and incredibly frustratingly), it's been almost 4 weeks since I had my biopsy, and I still don't have the results.   We knew we were going to celebrate Purim and Passover with 'the unknown' hanging over our heads, but I don't think we counted on still being in the dark over Lag B'Omer, and it definitely never occurred to us that we would still be in limbo over Shavuot.

By now, I can recite thyroid cancer statistics at the drop of a hat:  37,000 new cases in the US each year; 1,600 deaths.   I can give you a list of celebrities who are survivors (Catherine Bell, Joe Piscipo, Rod Stewart), and one who didn't survive (Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist).  I fill friends' and family members' ears with optimism and make sure that I add a giggle when they call to confirm that, no, I still haven't gotten the biopsy results.

I'm a fountain of one-liners, all intended to keep everyone at ease:  

- After keeping me waiting this long for the results, 'they' owe it to me to give a good report

- I think I've discovered a new type of Mossad torture..

- Isn't keeping you waiting so long for biopsy results against the Geneva Convention?

I've actually been coping pretty well.  The first week after the biopsy, I made sure to find all sorts of rote things to keep me busy:  straightening closets, washing windows.. I told everyone I had the cleanest bathrooms in the neighborhood (that always raised a chuckle).   There've been a few difficult days- the occassional  anxiety filled morning, or afternoon where all I could do was sleep.  But, all in all, I think I've been doing OK.  I've even been able to fill phone calls and car rides with giggles so that whomever I'm with can relax.

But I'm starting to lose my cool, calm demeanor.   I was sure that I'd finally be getting the results today, and started to brace myself for the call from the surgeon's office.  But when I hadn't heard anything by mid-morning, I called them- only to be told that my doctor wouldn't be in his office until tomorrow evening.

I hung up the phone, and collapsed in my chair, crying.   It took hours, and trying all sorts of things, from meditation to alcohol, before I was able to regain a measure of calm.   Then I got angry, really angry, wondering how the heck anyone could be expected to wait this long for results, and how the hell a medical professional could keep a patient hanging all this time.   In between all that, I found myself amazed that I hadn't had a seizure or a heart attack or even just a simple fainting spell from all the stress.

Yet, here I am, writing, waiting, wondering.   I tell my friends that the wait is intended to bring a sense of quiet defeat to the patient- at some point, you stop caring what the results are, you just want to get them already. 

I told my husband, when Shavuot was approaching, and we didn't have the results, that in a way I didn't want to get the results until after the holiday, because I didn't want it to be another one of our 'bad news' holidays.  Now we're approaching a round of personal celebrations- our wedding anniversary (35!) and our birthdays, and I'm telling everyone (including myself) that 'they' owe it to me not to mark these special days with negative news.

Just a few more days of waiting.....  my spirit isn't broken:  I'm confident that the news will be good.  Sure, I'll still be facing some complicated surgery.  But as long as the word 'cancer' (there, I finally said it) isn't attached to that surgery, I won't be complaining.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

C'mon, Skip Bo!

Last November, our granddaughters introduced us to the card game Skip Bo.  It's sort of a card version of Rummikub, and my husband and I took a quick liking to it.  

We've played hundreds of games since then, and somewhere along the line we started chuckling about the life lessons you can learn from playing Skip Bo:

       What I've Learned from playing Skip Bo

  • Have patience     In Skip Bo, sometimes your opponent can have a turn that seems to go on forever.  All you can do is sit there and watch and wait until they've run out of moves.  But, eventually (well, unless they finish out the game), your turn will come.
             Real life application:   Patience is a virtue that can ease your life.
  • Look around carefully    In Skip Bo, make sure, before you put down you 'end of turn' card, that you've checked the entire playing field very carefully.  Missing an available move can cost you the game.  
             Real life application:   Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Stay cool, and have fun    Just about any game can become nastily competitive, and Skip Bo is no exception.   We've learned it's much more fun if we cheer each other on.  
             .Real life application:   Life is sweeter when you have a smile on your face.
  • Never give up      Sometimes, especially when your oppenent has one of those never-ending turns, you can't imagine any way you'll win the game.   But there have been countless times when one of us was sure they'd lost the game by a landslide, only to wind up winning in the end.
             Real life application:    Never, ever give up-  not on your dreams,  not on your aspirations, not on love.  No matter how hopeless the situation seems, don't give up hope.

Right now, in my life, I'm rooting for Skip Bo.    I saw the surgeon a couple of days ago, and now I'm scheduled for a biopsy.   My appointment isn't until the end of April, and then we'll have to wait for the results, so we've got lots and lots of waiting ahead of us.   Patience is certainly going to be an important virtue, but, if I wind up in a difficult scenario, then it's that last Skip Bo lesson- 'never give up' that we'll be turning to again and again.

So- C'mon, Skip Bo!   Don't let me down.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Yikes!  I didn't realize how much time had passed since my last posting!  

It's not that I haven't had anything to write about.  There's actually been times when I sat down to write- I just never actually started typing.  I've got little scraps of paper all over the place, with long and short jottings of ideas for blog entries, and even some with experiences I absolutely, positively wanted to write about right away.

So I guess it's sort of ironic that when I finally pushed myself to sit down to write, the topic turns out to be 'waiting'.

We wait for so many things in life-  for a lover to call, for a child to be born, for school years to end.  We wait for smiles to start and tears to dry, for the weather to clear or for a storm to start. 

Some just simply wait for time to pass.

It's all well and good to say that we shouldn't consume our lives with waiting; that it's up to us to make things happen.   But, sometimes we aren't in control of events, and our only recourse is to wait.  We can fool ourselves by finding all sorts of things to keep us busy so that we don't seem to be, or don't feel, that we're on edge waiting for that phone call, email, or test result- but that's all just camouflage.   Waiting is hard; it's painful; it's frustrating.

I have a mantra that I use when the things I try to ease the stress of waiting don't work.  I take a deep breath, and say:

"I am patience."

Sometimes I have to repeat it several times, but eventually it helps me clear my head and push aside my frustration, and move on- at least for a little while.

Sometimes you know that the wait will be short.  Today, for example, I had to wait a bit for the roads to be reopened after the US Vice President passed by.  As I sat in traffic, I wondered if he realized how many people his entourage was inconveniencing (that was after I asked why the heck he had to travel via a major highway instead of helicopter!), but I knew I'd soon be on my way.

I've learned  ways to amuse myself while waiting on line at the post office, the bank, and the supermarket.  That waiting is always fun here, as Israelis aren't known for their patience.  I've enriched my Hebrew vocabulary in all sorts of interesting ways while waiting on those lines :-)

I have a friend who had to wait 2 weeks for the results of a biopsy.  I don't know how she made it through that wait.  I asked her about it, and she said that it wasn't easy, but she had no choice, so she managed somehow.

Unrequited waits can be tough.  We wait for our weekly Friday morning phone call from our son, and we're on edge until his call comes through.  If he misses that call, or if we don't get to speak to our grandchildren on the following Sunday, life just doesn't seem as bright.  But we pull ourselves together, and get on with our week (hmm...or should I say 'camouflage')..

I'm stuck in the midst of a very frustrating waiting game right now.  Two weeks ago, as I was putting lotion on my neck, I felt a lump in my throat.  I was able to see my doctor the next day, and he sent me for an ultrasound which confirmed the presence of the lump.  My doctor says the next step is surgery, but when he called to make an appointment with the surgeon he insisted was the best, he was told that he was out of the country for a conference, and wasn't scheduled to return for over a week.

So, I waited.  The day he returned to Israel, the surgeon's office called to set up an appointment. But the earliest they could squeeze me in isn't for another 2 weeks, so I'm waiting again.  Then, once I see him, I'll have to wait for an open date for the surgery.  And, of course, once I have the surgery, there will be that other waiting.... 

'I am patience.'